It’s often easy to support a close friend when they’re down, however we often struggle with providing the same kindness and support to ourselves. Rather, we often are overcome with negative thoughts and feelings that we ruminate on and don’t seem to go away. Treating yourself as you would a friend, similar to the concept of self-love, is an active form of mental and emotional support in order to resist giving into feeling immobilized or drowned by negative patterns of thinking. Dr. Kristin Neff’s research on self-compassion links to the concept of treating yourself like a best friend. Neff states that self-compassion extends compassion, kindness, and understanding you have for others who are suffering to yourself. Yet most of us would agree, we are more comfortable treating ourselves in the opposite way. We are often critical, judgmental, and angry with ourselves when we make mistakes, whether these occur in our personal or professional lives. However, exercises that identify ways to treat yourself like a friend, similar to those self-compassion exercises by Dr. Neff, highlight that we don’t always have to react to mistakes or disappointments with negative thoughts and feelings. So how do you start to treat yourself like a best friend? Try the tips below:
1. Think of how you would respond to a friend in distress: What would you say to a friend or family member who struggles with negative self-talk or is often self-critical? Imagine specific phrases you might say to support them and repeat these to yourself. What would you want to highlight for them? What feeling would you want to leave them with? Consider what it feels like to be compassionate toward that person; is it difficult or does it feel natural?
2. Imagine a friend’s response when you are in distress: When overwhelmed by negative thoughts about yourself, consider how your best friend would respond to those negative beliefs. Imagine what feedback you’d receive from someone who you know loves and cares about you. What would they say to you? What might they have said in the past when you are struggling? Reflect on something specific they might have said and repeat it in your head or out loud. For example, “I get why you feel this way and you are being too hard on yourself” or “It makes sense you’d feel this way and it won’t feel like this forever”.
3. Reflect on the difference: Now think about the differences in your response to a friend who is suffering versus what you imagine a close friend or loved one saying to you during a difficult time. Take a curious, open-minded stance and think about what it would be like to respond to yourself in the same way you respond to a friend or a friend responds to you. What would you tell yourself? If you said to yourself, “I do not have to be perfect” or “I am allowed to feel this way right now” what would that feel like? How does it feel to be self-compassionate as opposed to jumping into a critical judgment?
Three Quick Tips to Remain a Best Friend and Not a Critic:
1. Jot down what you might say to a friend who is struggling. Read and repeat these when struggling with difficult thoughts and feelings.
2. Consider finding an affirmation or mantra to repeat to yourself when you feel yourself becoming self-critical. Guided meditations and even self-care handles in Instagram can provide great examples!
3. Record yourself on your phone talking to yourself as a friend and listen back to the recording when needing some self-compassion. If this feels too difficult right now, have a recording of a friend or loved one you can listen to in those moments and then move to one of your own when you are comfortable. Being critical of yourself isn’t easy, it’s actually much harder and less sustainable than being your own best friend. Critical thoughts break you down where being your own best friend builds you up and keeps you moving. By treating yourself as a friend, acknowledging you do not need to be perfect, being kind and generous to yourself at all times, makes it much easier to bounce back from difficult situations and tolerate challenging moments that may arise in the future!